It's hard to put my finger on how many times I've legitimately tried to complete the Pitchell traverse. No matter the number, each attempt has ended in a DNF... So in the spirit of taking care of unfinished business, this Saturday at midnight, for better or worse, I'll be adding to my personal history with mad A's monster...
10/7/2006: it’s October and time for Adam Hill’s annual Mt. Pisgah to Mt. Mitchell foot odyssey. It’s a fool moon and it’s time to get loony. Midnight marks the start from the summit of Pisgah where I arrive after getting off work at 9PM. I have to be back to work at 1PM and plan to turn the epic 100K journey into a relay of approximately half the distance. It’s an amazing night: the solar echo of the moon’s burn, the wild autumn wind’s bite, and leaves falling like auburn, ochre and crimson confetti. It’s all quite intense: evaporating whirlpool clouds, and the crazies I meet at this hour (Adam, Brian and Kevin) ready to leave the world as we know it behind.
I sense some madness percolating in us while waiting for the witching hour as we stare at the red beacons of the Pisgah tower. It’s got me a tad nervous. But then we’re off storming down Shut-In: the fervor of life, movement and the crazy camaraderie invigorates me. Soon however, I find myself alone with Uwharrie gliding across the ridge of Goldenrod and White Snake Root. The fog of sleep envelops me. A few staggered steps and the chill of the wind’s bite fills me with despair. It’s too cold to sleep, or walk; I’m too tired to concentrate on running over roots and rocks. What a silly thing to be caught in this catastrophic Catch-22. I covet the twinkling superfluous lights of Asheville below: each to me represents a soft, warm bed.
After holding Uwharrie in a huddle for thirty minutes, I devise a solution: run the parkway! At the next crossing, we’re on the moonlit road and flying high. The silent fresh breath of salvation enters my conscience with a fantastic view from an overlook. We laugh and dance for a while, then run/walk to a rendezvous with Matthew near the Folk Art Center. As dawn arrives, I’m a stone in a sleeping bag on the pavement of the parking lot. My dad joins Adam and the others for the remaining journey and I return to work. Sunday is a day for rest, a good week’s progress in running...
10/17/2009: At 10:30PM Saturday night, eight of us reluctantly left the warmth of Brad’s van to start a 3+ mile approach to the summit of Mt. Pisgah from Hwy 151. The parkway was closed due to landslides and bad weather conditions. The wind howled and the flurries flew. We passed through tunnels that were like wind chambers. Near the end of the last tunnel, the crunch of ice underfoot reverberated loudly off the walls.
We walked briskly. Conversation among kindred spirits refreshed me. Soon, however, the silence of awe set in. We had entered a true winter wonderland in mid-October. Everything was covered in snow 1000’ below the summit of Pisgah.
We climbed forever in the snow. The ice crystals reflected our lights, illuminating the overburdened rhododendron ahead of us. Finally, a red cloud (eerily illuminated by tower lights) swallowed us onto the summit and into distant memory. The run officially started at 11:50PM on Saturday.
I’m usually not accustomed to bringing up the rear, but for some reason on Pitchell, it’s par for the course. Dying batteries in my headlamp could partly be to blame this time. Fortunately, there were some extras in the van. My body didn’t feel all that fresh and I was certainly sleepy, but I did keep on my projected 4mph pace to the French Broad River. It was here about 20 miles in that I decided to bag the run and catch a ride back to the Folk Art Center.
We had a strong group of eight runners this year, and certainly Byron Backer and Brad Kee would have finished if not for the crazy weather. Arctic conditions in the higher elevations with 1-3” of snow/ice and gusty winds caused the parkway up to Mt. Mitchell including the park itself to close down. This was the ultimate deathblow for those who made it as far as Craggy Gardens.
I’m thankful to have given Pitchell another shot and very grateful for all those who helped out. An adventure like this one may seem crazy to most, but really this type of play keeps some of us sane…
10/30/2010: A small crew assembled at Adam’s pad Friday evening and prepared for a midnight start from the summit of Pisgah: Adam, Dave, Jeremy, Psyche, Mike, Sultan and myself. We cached supplies along several MST/BRP crossings as we carpooled to the Pisgah parking lot. Surprisingly, the clear night was warmer than expected on the summit (temps would dip below freezing in Asheville) and the views were outstanding.
Night running is not my forte. Yet I had no intentions of getting left behind in the dark along Shut-In this year (as in previous years). I took off in the lead ahead of the bobbing lights of the speed demons. The last quarter of a large orange moon rose on the eastern horizon and I felt energized and ready to give Pitchell another go. The momentum lasted for the first few hours into Bent Creek where, too busy looking over my shoulder, I missed an important trail junction. After running a mile off course, I resumed my descent toward the French Broad feeling somewhat deflated.
The temperature continued to plummet as I neared the foggy river valley. Wind shirt, wool arm warmers and balaclava were insufficient armor against the chill. Sleepiness set in as I let go of trying to catch the runners ahead. Soon, it was a full on suffer-fest and the plan was quickly hatched to take the power-line cut just south of US-74A down to Adam’s house and bail at the approximate 50K mark. I arrived to the house just before dawn and startled a sleepy Lily, Duke and Uwharrie (Suzanne, Asa and Annie were out of town).
The accumulated exhaustion I felt from this night run, my sickness and the workweek at school was rather alarming. With the wonderful exception of meeting Peter Barr at the SB6K Challenge awards banquet, the rest of this weekend passed in a bedridden blur. Many thanks go out to Peter and Allison for making Lily and me feel so welcome. Saturday evening was definitely a highlight for this past month… Also a BIG congrats for Adam’s record-breaking Pitchell finish in 15:06… Outstanding!